This was too foolish! I dismounted, dropped my horse’s reins over his head, and sauntered to the nearest figure. He was lost in the dusk of the building and of his Mexican hat. I saw only the gleam of eyes.
“Where will I find Mr. Hooper?” I asked.
The figure waved a long, slim hand toward a wicket gate in one side of the enclosure. He said no word, nor made another motion; and the other figures sat as though graved from stone.
After a moment’s hesitation I pushed open the wicket gate, and so found myself in a smaller intimate courtyard of most surprising character. Its centre was green grass, and about its border grew tall, bright flowers. A wide verandah ran about three sides. I could see that in the numerous windows hung white lace curtains. Mind you, this was in Arizona of the ’nineties!
I knocked at the nearest door, and after an interval it opened and I stood face to face with Old Man Hooper himself.
He proved to be as small as I had thought, not taller than my own shoulder, with a bent little figure dressed in wrinkled and baggy store clothes of a snuff brown. His bullet head had been cropped so that his hair stood up like a short-bristled white brush. His rather round face was brown and lined. His hands, which grasped the doorposts uncompromisingly to bar the way, were lean and veined and old. But all that I found in my recollections afterward to be utterly unimportant. His eyes were his predominant, his formidable, his compelling characteristic. They were round, the pupils very small, the irises large and of a light flecked blue. From the pupils radiated fine lines. The blank, cold, inscrutable stare of them bored me through to the back of the neck. I suppose the man winked occasionally, but I never got that impression. I’ve noticed that owls have this same intent, unwinking stare—and wildcats.
“Mr. Hooper,” said I, “can you keep me over night?”
It was a usual request in the old cattle country. He continued to stare at me for some moments.
“Where are you from?” he asked at length. His voice was soft and low; rather purring.
I mentioned our headquarters on the Gila: it did not seem worth while to say anything about Box Springs only a dozen miles away. He stared at me for some time more.
“Come in,” he said, abruptly; and stood aside.